PLAYOFFS: UWHARRIE CHARTER 11, CHATHAM CHARTER 0

‘You have to play through errors’: Knights blanked by Eagles in blunderous first round

Posted 6/18/21

ASHEBORO — Defense wins championships, but it can also lose them.

As was the case for Chatham County’s lone playoff baseball team on Tuesday.

Chatham Charter’s season met an …

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PLAYOFFS: UWHARRIE CHARTER 11, CHATHAM CHARTER 0

‘You have to play through errors’: Knights blanked by Eagles in blunderous first round

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ASHEBORO — Defense wins championships, but it can also lose them.

As was the case for Chatham County’s lone playoff baseball team on Tuesday.

Chatham Charter’s season met an anticlimactic end in the first round of the NCHSAA 1A playoffs in Asheboro against reigning 1A champion Uwharrie Charter Academy with the Eagles shutting out the Knights, 11-0, to keep their title-defending playoff run alive.

For the Knights — who had lost just two games this season, both to Central Tar Heel conference champion Cornerstone Charter Academy — there were plenty of reasons to be hopeful entering the postseason.

They’d scored 110 runs compared to the 38 runs they’d given up, winning by an average score of 9-3. Their offense paired power with efficiency, having multiple players who were both on-base and extra-base machines.

Most importantly, however, they had Trevor Golden, a senior pitcher with a 6-0 record, 87 total strikeouts and a 1.25 earned run average in 2020-21. He’d been nothing short of immaculate all season, and with him, Knights’ head coach Bill Slaughter would tell you they always had a chance — no matter the competition.

But the Eagles were able to do something in the playoff game against Golden and the Knights that hardly any teams had been able to do before them: put the ball in play. And it made all the difference.

“They just put so much pressure on you, they put the ball in play,” Slaughter said after Tuesday’s game. “Trevor’s been striking out 12-14 a game, so we don’t usually have to make a play.”

Through Golden’s four innings pitched, he downed five on strikes, just the second time all season he didn’t record double-digit strikeouts.

Golden averaged a little over 12 strikeouts per game in his seven regular-season starts, equaling out to more than two strikeouts per inning. When he was on the mound, the defense rarely had to worry about making plays.

And against Uwharrie Charter, it showed. Chatham Charter racked up seven defensive errors through the five-inning contest, five of which allowed runs to score.

There were dropped balls at third base on routine grounders, misjudged fly balls in the outfield, narrowly missed catches at first base and errant throws on steal attempts.

To put it into perspective, fully a third of the Knights’ 21 total errors this season came in this game alone.

And while the Eagles had gotten the best of Golden — collecting seven hits, scoring six earned runs and capitalizing off of two walks and a hit-by-pitch — it was the error-riddled defense that took the Knights out of a mid-sized hole and put them into an inescapable abyss.

“We struggled to make plays a little bit and no excuses, but they couldn’t really see in the outfield,” Golden said, referring to the sun bearing down on the sunglasses-less outfielders. “There were three or four dropped balls that should have been caught, a few errors, but at the end of the day, you have to play through errors and mistakes.”

As instrumental as the Eagles’ power and ability to make contact with the ball were to forcing Chatham Charter errors, their base running might have been even more crucial.

Many of Uwharrie Charter’s hitters were extremely quick around the bases, putting even further pressure on the Knights’ defense to make split-second decisions when determining what to do with the ball.

Knights senior catcher Jacob Brannon was one of the primary victims of the Eagles’ quickness.

In the bottom of the first inning, Eagles senior Colt Wilkins — who had walked to lead-off the inning — stole second base without being contested, then followed it up in the next at-bat by attempting to steal third. Wilkins took off running as soon as the pitch left Golden’s hand, headed for the bag.

Brannon, in a rushed attempt to throw Wilkins out, caught the ball on the pitch, stood up and fired it toward third base. But instead of hitting the glove of Knights junior third baseman Colton Nixon, the ball flew over his head, allowing Wilkins to trot to home plate unchallenged for the first run of the game.

Brannon made a similar error with a runner stealing second in the bottom of the second inning, allowing the runner to get all the way to third.

However, the biggest example of the Knights being unprepared for the Eagles’ speed also came in the first inning, when senior Dalon Arrington whacked a ball to center field that drifted over the head of Knights senior Carter Phillips, who lost track of the ball in the outfield.

The ball rolled toward the wall as Arrington zoomed around the bases. Instead of stopping at third base for a stand-up triple, his quickness allowed him to get home well before the ball arrived, making it a two-RBI, inside-the-park home run. It was the first home run allowed by Golden all season.

Uwharrie Charter piled it on early against Chatham Charter, scoring five runs in the first inning, two runs in the second and four runs in the third. By the end of the third, the Knights were already on mercy-rule watch.

Yet, despite allowing 11 runs — six of them earned — Golden stuck it out on the mound. It was his last game and, no matter the score, he refused to give up.

“I was going to pull him after three (innings), but he said, ‘I want to go. I want to pitch it all the way,’” Slaughter said. “He didn’t want to hang it up, he wanted to go out fighting. You’ve got to love that.”

“I definitely wanted the mound,” Golden added. “I just wanted to prove that if we can stop making so many errors, then we’re really not as bad as people in the stands make us seem.”

Golden went on to have his best inning in the fourth, where he struck out three of four Uwharrie Charter hitters. It’s only fitting that his last pitch on the mound resulted in a swinging strikeout.

Offensively, the Knights were tasked with going up against Eagles senior pitcher Hunter Hill, a North Carolina Wesleyan commit, who is well known for blanking opponents.

Despite not scoring a run in the contest, Chatham Charter was decent at the plate and had a couple of opportunities to drive in runs, but couldn’t capitalize, including a bases-loaded chance in the second that ended with a strikeout to finish off the inning, stranding three runners.

“We led off the second inning with a double and I’m like, ‘Hey, he’s human,’” Slaughter said with a laugh, referring to Hill. “He throws it hard, he throws harder than we’ve seen all year, but our first four hitters in the order squared him up OK.”

As the game progressed — and the Knights’ deficit grew — the Chatham Charter dugout never seemed tense or downtrodden. Spirits remained high, jokes were hurled to teammates on the field and laughs could be heard even in the fifth inning, when the game was all but over.

It was a reminder that, even with the season coming to a close in blowout fashion, the Knights still knew how to have fun with one another, including Brannon, Golden and Phillips, the team’s three seniors.

That’s one of the things that Golden, who graduated on May 21 and will attend Brunswick Community College as a pitcher this fall, will miss the most.

“(My career) was fun, you don’t surround yourself with guys that are just for themselves,” Golden said. “It’s not like that here. If you come to Charter, you’re going to talk to your four, five, six friends in the dugout. You come to work towards something and if it isn’t a championship, then it’s having fun.”

Reporter Victor Hensley can be reached at vhensley@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @Frezeal33.

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